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Distinguished international scholar holds L.E. Phillips professorship in religious studies

| Alison Wagener

The University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire has welcomed Dr. Yaakov Levi as the next individual to hold the longstanding professorship funded by the L.E. Phillips Religious Studies Professor Award.

Levi’s position is the university’s first and only privately sponsored visiting professorship, funded since its inception in 1976 by the L.E. Phillips Family Foundation through the UW-Eau Claire Foundation. The professorship is intended to support an educator in the department of philosophy and religious studies who has expertise on the Holocaust and Jewish studies.

Since the professorship was founded nearly 40 years ago, thousands of UW-Eau Claire students have benefited from the courses, expertise and personal perspectives of those chosen to fill the position, said Kimera Way, president of the UW-Eau Claire Foundation.

“This extensive commitment is unprecedented,” Way said. “We have been so very fortunate to be able to attract and retain several stellar scholars and educators because of the generosity and longstanding dedication from the L.E. Phillips Family Foundation.”

At UW-Eau Claire, Levi teaches courses on the Old Testament and Hebrew Bible, the Holocaust and Judaism. In all of his academic and educational pursuits, Levi said he focuses on applying the Hebrew principle of tikkun olam, or “repairing the world,” to build lasting bridges and promote mutual understanding and respect amongst people.

“Real learning and teaching is when motivation, curiosity, challenge, engagement, interaction and joy interweave, in any order,” Levi said, “which leads to successful outcomes to be preserved past the test of time.”

As a scholar, educator and community activist, Levi has a vast history of experience in Jewish studies. At institutions in both the United States and Europe, he has taught courses in Hebrew language and literature, biblical studies and rabbinical studies at secondary and post-secondary levels. He additionally served for 13 years as the director of technological terminology at the Academy of the Hebrew Language, where he coined modern Hebrew words.

After the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989, Levi played an integral role in rebuilding the city’s Jewish education system. While serving as the Berlin Jewish community’s director of education in 1993, he re-opened the first Jewish high school to operate in Germany since the Holocaust.

Levi’s academic research has focused on many issues in the fields of Hebrew language, the Bible, Jewish studies and Jewish education. He is known internationally for his contributions to the study of biblical Hebrew, including his work in translating the New Testament into modern Hebrew. Levi earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Haifa in Israel and his doctorate from the University of Heidelberg in Germany.

Dr. Charlene Burns, chair of the philosophy and religious studies department at UW-Eau Claire, said Levi’s contributions to the department will be invaluable.

“We are very excited to have Dr. Levi joining our faculty,” Burns said. “His impressive range of experiences, scholarship and teaching expertise will undoubtedly add new intercultural and international dimensions to UW-Eau Claire’s religious studies program and the Chippewa Valley at large.”

Levi is the third individual to hold the L.E. Phillips Family Foundation professorship.

First was the late Rabbi Louis Milgrom, who held the position from 1976-89. During his 13 years at UW-Eau Claire, Milgrom taught courses on Judaism and the Holocaust and conducted special services at Eau Claire’s Temple Sholom. Before beginning his assignment with UW-Eau Claire, he spent 27 years as head of the B’nai B’rith Hillel Foundation at the University of Minnesota. Milgrom passed away in 2003.

Succeeding Milgrom was Dr. Jonathan Paradise. A former professor at the University of Minnesota, Paradise continued Milgrom’s work in teaching Judaism and the Holocaust. Additionally, Paradise expanded the scope of the professorship, adding several courses in the study of Hebrew. Paradise taught from 1989 until his retirement in spring 2015.